Higher education short course trial

The Office for Students (OfS) and the Department for Education (DfE) are collaborating to trial higher education short courses as part of the government’s approach to delivering the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE).

We are funding a number of higher education providers to develop these short courses, which will run from September 2022.

Read more about the funded projects

Responding to skills gaps

Currently, only four per cent of young people achieve a higher technical qualification by the age of 25, compared to 33 per cent who get a degree or above. Across a range of sectors, there is growing employer demand for the skills that higher technical education provides.

Evidence suggests that barriers to accessing higher and technical education include inflexibility of course delivery for adult learners and the availability of student finance for short course provision.

About the Lifelong Learning Entitlement

In September 2020, the government announced the introduction of a Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) from 2025. The LLE is a loan entitlement equivalent to four years of post-18 education for students to use over their lifetime. It will be available for both modules and full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (Levels 4-6) in colleges or universities.

The LLE will support increased access to high-quality technical qualifications in a way that allows people to build up learning and skills over time in a way that suits them.

About the short course trial

The Higher Education Short Course trial (HESC) will enable providers to offer prospective students greater choice in how they study, with more flexible options to develop their skills.

The trial is part of the government's piloting of access to a new student finance product designed for learners wanting shorter, flexible provision. It is designed to support the development of the LLE.

The government is keen to hear feedback from students, providers and employers during the development of the LLE, including providers' experiences of adapting and developing flexible and modular courses through the HESC trial.

The trial will test the interest of both students and employers in shorter provision aimed at developing skills needed by employers and the economy. It will also allow the OfS to understand and test whether the current regulatory system works for this type of provision and whether we would need to adapt our approaches.

Evaluation of the higher education short course trial

We commissioned the Career Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) to conduct an evaluation of the HESC trial. The evaluation mainly covers the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years, but the trial will continue to run until 31 August 2025 with most funded projects continuing to run short courses. See the evaluation report.

About the Study Support Bursary

The DfE has made available £2.5 million over three years for bursaries for students taking short courses developed through the HESC trial.

The bursaries, which will help with study costs, will be targeted at students facing the greatest barriers to study. They will be distributed by providers taking part in the HESC trial.

For more information, read our letter sent to the providers participating in the trial

Contact us

If you have any questions about the higher education short course trial, please email [email protected].

Published 21 July 2021
Last updated 10 January 2024
10 January 2024
Added information about evaluation of HESC and a link to the evaluation report.
15 July 2022
Added information about the Study Support Bursary and letter sent to providers
01 March 2022
Minor updates to remove out of date information
25 August 2021
Link added to full guidance for Challenge Competition

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